NM’s mask mandate will be extended

A protester at a July 2020 event at Civic Plaza in Albuquerque holds a sign targeting a New Mexico face mask requirement. A mask mandate for indoor public settings is expected to be extended for at least another month, a Lujan Grisham spokesman said Tuesday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A New Mexico face mask mandate for indoor public settings will be extended for at least another month, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday.

The mask mandate, which applies to all state residents regardless of their vaccine status, was reimposed in mid-August amid a surge in new COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

It is part of a public health order issued by acting state Health Secretary David Scrase that’s set to expire Wednesday. But Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said the order will be extended without any “substantive changes” planned.

A separate public health order requiring that hospital employees, corrections officers and other workers in group home settings get the COVID-19 vaccine or risk losing their jobs does not have a set expiration date.

After steadily increasing over the last month, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations related to the virus have shown signs of leveling off in recent days.

There were 749 new cases reported statewide on Tuesday, including 215 new cases in Bernalillo County and five new cases among inmates at state-run prisons in Santa Fe and Los Lunas.

And health officials reported 352 individuals were hospitalized due to the virus – down from 388 individuals hospitalized a week earlier.

However, state health officials have warned the death rate due to the virus could continue to rise, since deaths have tended to lag behind new cases and hospitalizations during the COVID-19 pandemic that first hit New Mexico in early 2020. And 12 additional deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing New Mexico’s toll to 4,631 since the start of the pandemic.

While some vaccinated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 amid the recent surge, unvaccinated adults make up the overwhelming majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Nearly 79% of New Mexico residents age 18 and older had received at least one vaccine dose as of Monday, while 69% of adults had gotten all shots necessary to be fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, New Mexico was among the first states to require that face coverings be worn in public settings, when Lujan Grisham revised a previous public health order to include a face mask mandate in May 2020.

But the face mask requirement has drawn criticism, even though a Journal poll conducted last fall found 78% of likely voters supported it, and some county sheriffs have refused to enforce the mandate.

Before being recently reimposed for indoor public settings, the face mask mandate had been lifted in May for fully vaccinated individuals in order to conform to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

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